Radical Centrist Platform for California 2003

An Open Letter to Gubernatorial Candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger

Dear Mr. Schwarzenegger:

Congratulations on your bid to become governor of America’s most
populous state. We know that much of the world considers this recall
(and your campaign) little more than a wacky California joke. But we
believe that the recall, despite its background of petty partisanship
and sometimes childish rage, is a refreshing reminder that citizens
want, need, and deserve good governance. And we applaud you for your
goals of wanting to be pro-business, pro-environment, pro-education,
and pro-fiscal responsibility, all at the same time.

Of course, we know where roads paved with good intentions can lead.
Everyone is wondering how you are going to translate these lofty, even
paradoxical, ideals into concrete proposals, policies, and
priorities– in short, into a real political platform. In case you
are still hammering out the details of yours, we wanted to tell you
about ours.

We are part of an emerging political movement called Radical
Centrism. [1] We reject the extremism of an individualistic Right and
a paternalistic Left, as well as the complacency of the so-called
“sensible center.” We believe that it is still possible to build a
broad-based governing coalition to pursue fundamental change by
pursuing three common-sense values:

  1. Listen critically to everyone
  2. Make the hard decisions openly
  3. Admit to your mistakes

The problem with professional politicians isn’t that they’re
particularly evil or stupid; it’s just that they’ve fallen into the
very human trap of believing only their friends and ignoring their
critics. As a result, they find themselves making ever greater
compromises to maintain the allegiance of ever narrower vocal
minorities. The only way out is not to worry whether your “core
constituency” likes you, but instead to get the broad majority to
respect you. That starts by treating everyone with respect, including
and especially those who disagree with you (an approach sometimes
called Aikido Politics). [2]

In particular, we would like to recommend to you a Radical Centrist
platform focused on a few key areas:

A. Fiscal responsibility

California’s financial system reflects a tortured history of
ideological and political battles. Each individual fight was often
noble, but the end result was losing the war of financial discipline.
We urge you to reform the process [See note A]
of how financial decisions are made,
and to create a tax and budget process that is fair, transparent, and
sustainable–regardless of who wins and loses. [3] Admit the truth:
when we’ve spent ourselves into the indebtedness that our state has,
there’s no painless way out. We believe, however, that people are
willing to accept painful decisions as long as they know that the
process is honest, the pain will be shared, and the results will
benefit everyone.

B. Professionalized education

The fundamental problem with public education isn’t financial, but
structural. Education reform is currently trapped between
conservatives who seemingly want to abandon public education, and liberal
teachers’ unions and colleges who appear committed to protecting the
present mediocrity. We believe that the best way to improve education
is to train and reward teachers like professionals rather than
bureaucrats. [4] In exchange for that newfound respect, however,
parents and communities need to be able to hold educators accountable
for their results, similar to what we expect from businesses and
elected officials. It won’t be easy, and it won’t be cheap, but people
are amazingly willing to make sacrifices if they believe that it will
really help our kids.

C. Cost-effective Justice

If there’s one thing citizens demand from their government, it is
public safety. So it’s time to admit that we aren’t getting our
money’s worth from our antiquated and expensive criminal justice
system. We need a justice system focused on directly addressing the
causes and effects of crime, at both the individual and community
level, rather than simply locking people up so we don’t have to think
about them. Many organizations are developing models based on the
ideas of collaborative, therapeutic, or restorative justice, which
focus on transforming communities yet still hold individuals
accountable. [5] What is needed is leadership from someone tough
enough to turn these models into reality.

D. Energy AND Environment

It’s time to explode the myth that economic development and
environmental stewardship are incompatible goals. With our natural,
human, and technological resources, California has an opportunity to
reap the rewards of making the world a better place. The National
Energy Policy Initiative [6], an alliance of energy producers and
environmental activists, shows that it is possible to find a common
ground that can lead us to a money-making, lifestyle-enriching,
environmentally- sustaining future. If did that in our state, we could
show the world how to save both our trees and our SUVs. [7]

E. Political reform

You probably know better than anyone that this recall presents a
unique opportunity to take your message directly to the
people. Although it has generally served us well for centuries, the
two-party system has now led to gatekeeper primaries where candidates
are tested for ideological purity, as defined by the faithful few who
show up. The end result is a calcification of political thought and a
dearth of candidates who can represent majority viewpoints. To
reinvigorate the political process, we encourage you to adopt (a)
“instant runoffs” [actually, Approval Voting; see note C]where voters rank candidates in order of preference,
and (b) proportional Presidential voting, where the states’ electors
are divided based on the proportion of votes each candidate
received. [8] Both might wreak havoc with existing party politics, but
ultimately would improve both the choices and the impact of California

Thank you for taking the time to read this. We know that you have some
smart people on your staff, so hopefully they’ll come up with even
better ideas than these. But if nothing else, we hope that this
encourages you to think “outside the box,” and dare to make a radical
change–a Radical Centrist change–in California. And perhaps the
powers that be will discover that, even if the recall is a joke, it is
a practical joke. On them.

Your Friends at RadicalCentrism.org
August 19th, 2003

RadicalCentrism.org is an anti-partisan think tank based near
Sacramento, California, which is seeking to develop a new paradigm of
civil society encompassing politics, economics, and philosophy. We
are dedicated to developing and promoting the ideals of Reality,
Character, Community & Humility as expressed in our Radical Centrist Manifesto:
The Ground
Rules of Civil Society


Radical Centrist thought is exemplified by such books as The Third Way (Anthony Giddens) and The Radical Center (Halstead & Lind), as well as Mark Satin’s The Radical Middle Newsletter (See http://RadicalCentrism.org/links.html)
For a working example of Aikido Politics, see the Rocky Mountain Institute’s definition of “Positive Action.” http://www.rmi.org/sitepages/pid154.php
For innovative thinking on taxation in the digital age, see The Radical Center (above), pp. 128-147.
The Radical Middle Newsletter, September / October 2002, “What Our Schools Need Now: Great Teachers, Great Teachers, Great Teachers.” http://www.radicalmiddle.com/x_teachers.htm
As one example, The PFI Centre for Justice and Reconciliation defines Restorative Justice as “a systematic response to wrongdoing that emphasizes healing the wounds of victims, offenders and communities caused or revealed by the criminal behavior.” http://www.restorativejustice.org/
The National Energy Policy Initiative is a non-governmental, non-partisan, foundation-funded project designed to support the development of a stakeholder-based national energy policy. http://www.nepinitiative.org/
See the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Hypercar(TM) project, which aims to spur development of vehicles such as a 70 miles-per-gallon SUV.
See Halstead & Lind’s in-depth analysis of electoral reform in The Radical Center (above), pp. 109-123, arguably the most compelling section of the book.


The best suggestion for structural reform we have seen so far is analysts’ recommendations for improving California’s bond ratings. While analysts undoubtedly have their own biases, at least they aren’t directly tied to California politics, so this is as objective an assessment as we’re likely to get.
Interestingly, cost-based prison reform is starting to be adopted in a number of states, due to an unlikely coalition of liberals who wants to decrease punishment, and conservatives who want to avoid spending more on prisons.
After further analysis, we now recommend Appproval Voting, where voters simply vote ‘yes’ for one or more candidates, over Instant Runoff. Studies show that Appproval Voting offers the same benefits as Instant Runoff, at far lower cost and with fewer negative side effects. Brian Olson has drafted preliminary legislation for enabling modern voting in California .

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